The last week or so I have been thinking about the young gay men who have committed suicide after being bullied and harassed. So many people in our world feel that sense of hopelessness that leads to thinking that death is better than life. I cry out with Habakkuk:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous--
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
And then I read the next line:
I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
And I think - oh - this is about me and what I am doing or not doing.
Many and maybe all of us have both experienced bullying and been bullies. I remember that as school children we tormented a boy who cried easily. And I remember the times that I was called names and terrorized. There is something about our nature. Like chickens who pick on the one who is different - even to the point of killing that one - we have that little "chicken" bit of brain down deep in ourselves.
Will I stand guard over myself and in our community. It is hard to stand out and speak up when a crowd is going this way. Last week in our online sermon discussion listserve, Propertalk, I was reminded of the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird:
when the white men come at night and surround the jail where Tom, an African-American wrongly accused of a crime, is held? The men are a mob. They do not see Tom; they only see an enemy-red or blue. They are blinded by rage. Scout, a little
girl, watches them. Her father tells her to run away and go home. But Scout doesn't run, and she doesn't fight....
Scout looks at one of the men in the mob and says, "Hey Mister Cunningham, don't you remember me? I go to school with Walter. He's your boy, ain't he? We brought him home for dinner one time. Tell your boy 'hey' for me, will you?"
There was a long pause. Then the big man separated himself from the mob, squatted down and took Scout by both her shoulders. "I'll tell him you said 'hey,' little lady." Then the mob dispersed.
Scout is the agent of God - helping people to return to their selves and become individuals and not a mob. She stood watch and spoke truth to power.
In our town of about 6000 we have a listserve of about 2000 which is mainly for announcing garage sales. Occasionally someone will say something that is racist, sexist or homophobic or other scary thing. At first it seems terrifying that there are so many who agree - then one person will write offering an opposing point of view - one that restores dignity to those being abused by hurtful words. Suddenly allies appear or write notes of support. The world became less scary by the actions of one person stepping out from the crowd.
How do we learn to step out like this? The 2nd Letter to Timothy gives us a hint:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
In baptism we are asked, "Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?" and we answer with a loud, "AMEN." We can be communities of support and care for all people, we can teach one another to walking in Christ's loving footsteps. We can offer hope to those who feel alone and isolated.
Last week our church camp, that you support through the diocesan assessment and through sending kids to camp in the summer, was the site for a weekend with the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) in Casper. High school students who care and support for each other, especially for those who are gay or lesbian. They spent the weekend using the ropes course for team building and learning more about how to be community who is there for each other. You, Holy Communion, Rock Springs, have become a welcoming church for all who might come seeking hope. We can continue this work and exercise our faith together - so when a moment comes to stand up - we will not fear but step out in faith.
This is being the mustard seed of the gospel. We can be a small seed of faith and hope that grows to a large protective place of respite and renewal -- scattering our mustard seeds of hope to all who need a word of encouragement and knowledge that they are beloved of God, that life is worth living.